Graham Bell tries out the beefed up version of Astonís best seller
As every petrolhead knows, itís an Aston Martin tradition to give the higher performance versions of their models the 'Vantage' tag. The problem Aston Martin had with that when it came to producing the new higher performance version of the DB7 was that theyíd already used the Vantage tag to distinguish the V12 DB7 from the original six-cylinder version. And with the six-cylinder version having since been discontinued because everybody wanted the V12, the DB7 Vantage is now effectively the Ďstandardí model.
As every petrolhead also knows, Aston Martin is now owned by Ford, so the simple solution was to do what Ford generally did with its souped-up models back in the 1960s and call it the GT.
Born out of customer demand for a harder edged, more involving DB7, the £104,500 GT is only available with the lighter, stiffer and more aerodynamic coupe body, and while the changes compared to the standard Vantage arenít particularly major, they are quite widespread.
Starting with the heart of the beast, Aston have raised the output of that 6 litre V12 from 420bhp and 400 lb ft to 435bhp and 410 lb ft by re-calibrating the engine management system and replacing the standard exhaust with an Ďactive sports systemí similar to that used on the Vanquish.
To make better use of this slight increase in grunt, the standard clutch has been replaced with a twin plate job with 24% greater friction area, a new gear lever with shorter throw has been fitted to the six-speed gearbox and the final drive ratio has been lowered from 3.77 to 4.09.
Also lowered, by 3mm, is the front suspension bump stop, providing improved wheel movement and ride quality. Other suspension mods comprise revised dampers, stiffer front lower wishbone bushes and additional bracing to the rear suspension to reduce toe-out under braking, while the location of both the front subframe and steering rack has been improved to provide more positive control and handling.
With 355mm front and 330mm rear vented Brembo discs, the DB7 Vantage has never been short of stopping power, but even so Aston have made changes here too, fitting an unprated servo and harder Pagid RS4-2-1 front pads. The GT also features grooved rather than the standard drilled discs, though I suspect thatís mainly an aesthetic change, like the use of silver rather than black callipers.
Thereís been a touch of silver added to the interior too in the form of aluminium pedal covers, air con controls, sill plates and gear knob, though the most significant and functional interior change is the fitting of new front seats with added shoulder support.
However, the most obvious distinguishing features of the GT are of course the five spoke wheels and the bodywork modifications Ė namely the mesh grille, the two vented bulges in the bonnet and the enlarged spoiler on the boot lid. Doubtless originally spawned by the desire to visually differentiate the GT from the standard version, the latter two of these changes are also functional, the vented bonnet improving cooling while the enlarged spoiler combines with a revised undertray and wheel arch liners to reduce high speed lift by nearly 50%.
But while the GT may have been beefed up in numerous ways it hasnít been trimmed down in any way and still tips the scales at a weighty 1800kg, so itís still much more luxury Grand Tourer than track day special.
The car might be heavy, but the controls certainly arenít, with that twin plate clutch not only being very progressive in operation - unlike some - but even requiring less pedal pressure than the standard item, so driving in town traffic doesnít result in a series of embarrassing stalled starts and left leg strain. It does however sometimes result in some embarrassing squealing from those Pagid pads.
Push down on a corner of the body and itís obvious that the GTís suspension is quite firm, though not so firm that it canít still provide a comfortable ride, even with fat ultra-low profile tyres (245/40 ZR 18 front/265/35 ZR 18 rear). This applies equally at low speeds round town, where it successfully takes the edge off ramped speed humps and all but the worst potholes, and at high speeds on dual carriageways and motorways where it traverses those sectional stretches without vibration or road noise.
But of course DB7 customers who have easy town driving and comfortable motorway cruising as their priorities are going to buy an automatic Vantage and not a manual GT. The people who demanded and will buy this car have rather different priorities. PH type priorities. In other words, how it performs when you give it some serious welly.
Capable of 0-60 in 5 seconds and 185mph, the standard DB7 Vantage coupe is unarguably a very quick car in straight line, so with the extra grunt and lower differential the GT should be even quicker. Quite how much quicker I canít say, because Astonís figures simply list a 0-62 time of Ďunder 5 secondsí and a top speed of Ď185mph+í. Realistically though, all out acceleration in the GT isnít going to be much quicker than in the standard Vantage Ė but it is more dramatic.
The reason for this is that Ďactive sportsí exhaust system. Between 1500rpm and 3500rpm, valves in the system route the gasses through all four silencers to provide a very subdued exhaust note - just like you get on the standard Vantage and ideal for comfortable long distance cruising. Drive it more aggressively though with the engine revving above 3500rpm and those valves then bypass the main silencers, allowing that big V12 to really make itself heard. And boy what a noise!
Accelerate hard along hedge lined roads in the lower gears, and as the revs rise towards the 7,000rpm limit, the exhaust note takes on an almost race car like howl, though from the confines of the cabin itís still somewhat muted and I think you really need to be outside the car to appreciate the full effect.
The cabin Ė or more specifically the driving seat Ė is undoubtedly the best place to appreciate other aspects of the GT though. Such as the brakes and the steering.
With their ability to slow 1800kgs of motor car from 100mph to a standstill in under 5 seconds the V12 DB7ís anchors have always been extremely impressive, and on the GT they should manage such performance repeatedly thanks to those harder pads, which while sometimes noisy in gentle use shut up and get on with it when worked hard. And even on a wet road you can stand on the middle pedal as hard as you like safe in the knowledge that the superb ABS system wonít let the wheels lock for even an instant.
As for the steering, well, like that on the new Jaguar XJR it shows that PAG have PAS sussed. No vague, sluggish helm here, but a nicely weighted system that lets you feel the road beneath the front wheels and comes with just over 2.5 turns lock to lock to help with rapid changes of direction during spirited driving along the twisty bits.
Combine this with the improved body control provided by the beefed up suspension - which besides providing the aforementioned good ride is also communicative enough to let you feel changes in the road surface - and the result is that the DB7 GT is well up to a bit of B-road blasting.
Although obviously too bulky to be ideal for the task, the big coupe can nonetheless cover the ground along winding country roads at a hell of a rate. Admittedly this is largely down to the way its acceleration and braking enable you to despatch the straighter bits, but itís no mean performer through the bends either, displaying nicely balanced handling and massive grip from the fat Bridgestone S02s.
When you do push it beyond the limit of grip into a sweeping bend or large roundabout the front end drifts wide, revealing that the chassis is biased towards mild understeer. However, if the driver is biased towards wild oversteer, then switching the traction control off, using a low gear and applying more power mid-bend will bring the tail out on demand. Do this sensibly and the transition is smooth rather than sudden, enabling you to keep everything nicely under control.
So it makes the grade as a driverís car then? Well I reckon so. Not the ultimate driverís car maybe, but one thatís turned whatís always been one of the best looking cars on the planet into one of the best sounding too, and for that alone I for one am grateful.
© Copyright Graham Bell 2003